The life and example of a 20th-century Italian saint-in-waiting is fuelling a growing lay Catholic initiative helping young men to become active members of their faith communities.
The Frassati Fraternity, which is active in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, seeks to form young men in the Catholic faith, to help them live that faith authentically and to spread the spirit of the Gospel in society. The Fraternity was first established in Brisbane in 2010, when five young men approached Fr Paul Chandler, looking for a way to strengthen the faith of other young men.
“These five young men had been on National Evangelisation Teams (NET) together, and they had all done their maximum two years,” Fr Paul explained. “They were very much on fire for continuing to reach out in peer ministry, but particularly to young men… as they sensed that there was something lacking for young men.”
The group asked Fr Paul if he would be their chaplain and, after agreeing, he suggested they take Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati as their patron.
“Of course, they fell in love with him straight away and said, ‘He’s the guy we’ve got to have’, so that’s why we took his name,” Fr Paul said.
Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati lived from 1901 to 1925, and was known for his devotion to God, his charitable spirit, his athleticism and his general love of life and his friends. During his beatification in 1990, Pope St John Paul II described Blessed Pier Giorgio as the “man of the eight beatitudes”.
Fr Paul said the relatively “normal” life that Blessed Pier Giorgio lived was one of the reasons why young people find him so inspirational.
“He didn’t go out and found a religious order, he didn’t go on missionary work to the other side of the world. He lived his life where he was placed by God,” he said.
“It was then through his work of charity and his life of prayer that he began to stand out among his peers.”
The core of the Frassati Fraternity is a house where young men live together in Catholic brotherhood, supporting each other’s faith lives and engaging with other young men through social occasions. In this way, the Fraternity imitates Blessed Pier Giorgio, who regularly gathered with groups of friends for Mass, prayers, hiking and social activities.
Rather than being based on strict rules, the Frassati houses follow some guiding principles, which Fr Paul said have proven to be vital in keeping the Fraternity going. The Fraternity houses must be a part of, and its members must contribute to, the life of the local parish. The houses also require the involvement of a priest to provide spiritual guidance and the sacraments.
“That’s the basic model and, thanks be to God, it’s worked very well as it’s been planted into other places,” Fr Paul said.
One of those places was Melbourne, where the Frassati Fraternity was established in 2016. One of the founding members, Mark O’Shea, said it was upon meeting two members of Brisbane’s Frassati Fraternity while walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage that the idea of a Melbourne branch was first entertained.
“The leader of the pilgrimage, Fr Nicholas Pearce, was interested in starting a chapter of Frassati at his new parish in Mount Waverley and invited myself and two others, Anthony Kelly and Damian Barnett, to form a Frassati house at the beginning of 2016,” Mark recalled.
“Since then, almost 30 young men have called Frassati Melbourne home, and many more have participated in the life of the Fraternity through the various events and activities we have run.”
Such events include the Fraternity’s monthly steak nights, where between 30 and 40 young men squeeze into the house for a three-course meal, prepared and served by members of the house. The Fraternity also organises regular outdoor activities, such as hiking and camping, involvement in works of charity and a weekly evening of faith formation for young men and women.
Having lived in the Frassati house for three years, Mark said the experience gave him a timely reminder of the inherently relational quality of the Catholic faith.
“One thing that remains constant is our shared commitments to God, to each other and to those we serve in the parish and the diocese more broadly,” he said.
“Weekly dinners, communal prayer and running events like our ever-popular men’s steak nights infuse the Fraternity with a sense of our common purpose and remind us of our responsibility to each other, even if we don’t always get along.
“Community life provides endless opportunities to put the love of neighbour into practice, allowing you to recognise and cultivate your strengths and, more importantly, and often more painfully, to expose and work on your weaknesses.”
Fr Paul said he has witnessed many wonderful fruits borne in the lives of those involved with the Fraternity over the past 10 years.
“I’ve seen young men getting involved in the life of the Church again… I’ve also seen the growth in their personal holiness,” he said. “They become men who practise their faith both in terms of prayer and the sacraments, as well as in the world where they work.
“There have been many marriages that have come about from the Fraternity’s young adult groups… and there have been vocations to the seminary and religious life.”
In an increasingly secular world, Fr Paul said being able to return home to a community of like-minded, faith-filled peers gives the young men residing at the Frassati houses a “solid refuge”.
“The Fraternity provides an antidote to the secular world and Pier Giorgio himself provides the model of a young man,” he said. “He shows to young men that it can be done with the help of God, with the help of each other and through the graces of the Sacraments.”
Additionally, the lifelong friendships formed among the members of the Fraternity provide continuous encouragement and hope while navigating life’s challenges, as Mark explained.
“It has been a joy to see these friendships continue to flourish beyond the houses, whether that’s supporting each other through difficulties or celebrating major life events like births and marriages,” he said.
The Frassati Fraternity is evidence of an increasing number of support networks being established around the country for young Catholic men, generally with the aim of building community and a shared sense of brotherhood.
This article first appeared in the June 2021 edition of The Bridge, the newsletter of the National Centre for Evangelisation. Reproduced with permission.